|POLITICAL PARTIES AND NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY 1999-2015
Muhammadu Mustapha Gwadabe
Department of History,
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
POLITICAL PARTIES AND NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY 1999-2015
Muhammadu Mustapha Gwadabe
Department of History,
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
What is Democracy and what is Nigerian Democracy? While this may sound an absurdity, yet it makes sense when critically analyzed. Since independence in 1960 efforts to put in place democratic governance and democratic structures were attempted. So many factors hijacked the process one of which was the military interference. Military interference did not just scuttled democracy but also created a variant Nigerian democracy where by the politician imposed their dictatorship over those who elected them. The very process that produced this form of civilian dictatorship also ensured that political parties were formed without democratic root and radical ideological leaning. The essay argues that while democracy is of variant, this is not Western Democracy; it is certainly not Socialist Democracy. It is at best a Nigerian democracy or civil rule. The journey to liberal democracy is therefore still to be reached; it needs the concern and unity of the oppressed classes, led by conscious desire for change.
Democracy is not only Liberal or Western; it is also Socialist and therefore Eastern. It is indeed, at some point, non-aligned. This was when the politics of Cold War era called for political identity-claim, and led the newly independent countries came up with a Political front called Non-Aligned Movement. None-Aligned Movement was formed with the objective to be neutral from the Western and Eastern Democracies.1 The rundown here is therefore of the view that democracy can be so many things to so many people and situations.2 Yet the following common features are shared by most democracies: competition for the capture and control of power; participation in the exercise of power; and civil and political liberties enjoyed as political dividend. Following this understanding Seymor Martin Lipset concludes that democracy represents:
a political system which supplies regular constitutional opportunities for changing the government officials, a social mechanism which permits the largest possible part of the population to influence major decision by choosing among contenders for political office.3
This very much explains Western Liberal Democracy, and since Nigeria is operating a political system analogous to that, discussion in this chapter is going to be centred on that perception of democracy and party politics. As commonly viewed, Liberal democracy has its roots traced to ancient Greece. It came about on the common objective to render the life of a political community to the dividends of “the willed and the chosen”.4 Though presently an accepted universal political practice, democracy has its roots in the practices and solutions to the challenges of societies with distinct history and political traditions.
In the case of Nigeria Liberal democracy took effect from the efforts wedged by the various political parties and political groups during the anti-colonial struggles of the 1950s.5 Not long into the journey of running a Parliamentary democracy, since independence in October 1960, the military intervened in 1966 and initiated a long history of brutal authoritarian culture and systematic displacement of democratic structures.6 The democratic transition of 1979 that produced the Second Republic and an American version of liberal democracy (Presidential system) could not also last due to the same factor of military intervention, and indeed the attitudes of the politicians to the economy and social relations.7 Since then democratic transitions in Nigeria became subjected to the will and wishes of the military, giving democracy different meanings as well as relieving it of its ideological content and relevance.8 It is this unfortunate history that explains and defines party politics and democracy in Nigeria today; essentially built on bogus national commitment and ideology for development. Rather than ‘government of the people for the people and by the people’ that popularly defines democracy, the Nigerian democracy is a dictatorship of the politicians by the Politicians and for the Politicians. This is the dilemma of the Nigerian type of liberal democracy sixteen years after. The innocent voters are the guilty party; the future would certainly be more dramatic especially if the mass of the population discovered their political worth and threw away the petty bourgeois propaganda that built in hatred among them; among people of common socio-economic and political destiny.
Background to the 1999 Transition to Democratic
The death of General Sani Abacha on June 8th, 1998 was historic in the transition to the fourth republic politics in Nigeria. It is relevant to mention that from the regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) 1985-1993, efforts at democratization were severally attempted, but made illusory.9 So much administrative tricks, bottlenecks and road blocks were tactfully employed; the funniest was when an election (June 12, 1993 Presidential election) was annulled for no justifiable reason.10 The General Sani Abacha regime made mockery of the whole political exercise (democracy).11 This was when the five political parties offered the then military leader (Sani Abacha) the sole right of contest unopposed. Even in the case of the Grass-root Democratic Movement (GDM), where Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu (MD Yusufu) came out to contest, the convention to conduct the election was scuttled, in Maiduguri.12 Death was so kind to Nigerian people when it took away General Sani Abacha in a so dramatic or rather miraculous way at the time it did. Death was on the other hand pitiless to Nigerian politicians because it exposed their two-facedness and high level bankruptcy. This historicity is what most political analysts missed in their explanation of the nature and character of the Nigerian democracy, politicians and political party. A critical assessment of what transacted during that period in Nigerian political history explained the emergence of the so called major parties, PDP and ANPP, which got initial registration by the General Abdussalami Abubakar transition committee.13 In more general term the nature and character of their membership was made up of one and the same people. They represented a team of birds of the same feather that deliberately chose to manage their differences for their common interest. From the beginning, therefore, the question of ideology was not condoned; the crucial issue was the financial contribution (investment) of members. The defining line was “national outlook” and not national unity and development; just carrying along membership across the major ethnic groups of the larger society. Thus politics and political participation was more in tune with business investment, whereby the investor demands political appointment in return. This defines all Nigerian political parties, including the recently registered All Progressive Congress (APC).
In more civilized societies, especially from those countries with years of democratic experience, political parties were formed through the option of popular concern. Thus political parties came about to respond to the yearnings of the people, which also made the followership of the parties to be defined by commitment to clear ideals.14 Based on this understanding political parties represent an organized body concern with the expression of popular preference and contesting control of the policy making offices of government. The goal, according to Joseph A, Schlesinger, is to capture public office in electoral competition. Such a background created synergy between parties and citizens which provides justification for the long history of democratic practice in these countries without military intervention or unnecessary cross carpeting to the wining party at wish. Interestingly however the Nigerian political scene presented an entirely different experience, possibly that explains the failure of the democratic regimes of the past. For example political parties of the First and indeed second republics were defined by tribal or sectional affiliations. Thus national unity and commitment to development were not given primacy. The thrust of politics was to capture power at national level for tribal or sectional interest, carrying along the belief that the Nigerian nation is artificial and therefore very difficult to govern as one nation. As a result of this perception, even democracy was defined from the point of view of ethnic cum religious interest. This is the most painful part of the political experience of the sixteen years of resilient political development in the 20th century Nigeria. This is about fifty seven years since Nigeria became independent sovereign nation from British colonialism.
The involvements of the military in the political transition program worsen the exercise further, starting from the regime of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. His regime was guided by the convergence theory of military/civilian relations, which supported the civilianization of the military. His years of administration successfully executed such an agenda and produced super rich military officers who no longer need military coup. He also succeeded in playing the politicians around, and in the process further weakened the ideological fabric of their political practice, especially radical politics. This was when he run a political transition program but refused to register popular grassroots political groups. Rather, he created his own political parties on the fake philosophy of a little to the left (SDP) and a little to the Right (NRC);15 contracted out the construction of their secretariats, appointed government bureaucrats as administrators and indeed financed them to the teeth. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo made a good summary of the developments where he stated that, General Babangida has demonstrated his true color as a great master of intrigue, mismanagement, corruption, manipulation, deceit, settlement, cover-up and self-promotion. Thus the social basis of political parties had to give way; corruption came to have an acknowledged cherished acceptance in Nigerian political arrangement. His insistence to remain in power by all means was one other measure which Nigerian political history would never put aside. It was in a built up to this over bearing political atmosphere that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo once made the loud challenging pronouncement that:
Evil is not reform-able, it must be removed … It is the responsibility of all of all Nigerians to present another government from -becoming completely evil. We must never be tired of demanding that any government should chasten itself and give us the foundation and the example to propel us forward. We must demand that any government should deal honestly with us and level with us. We must have the program and time-table to be able to assess its performance. We must have accountability and transparency that we are not getting now. If any administration is turning evil we should spare no efforts and no sacrifice to remove it.16
Yet this attitude promoted by General IBB remain the adapted political culture of the Nigerian military leaders through to 1998, until when the political pressure became obviously tensed and the political environment was over ripe for a shift to civilian regime.
Guide lines were quickly issued by the electoral umpire for the formation and registration of political parties as well as for electioneering campaign. The electoral body was also given the powers to monitor and control the activities of the parties as well as dissolve or proscribe any political association found to be injurious to democracy. From the above, all powers were given to the electoral body to register or refuse to register any political association.17 An important point of note, however, is that the membership of the body was selected by the then military administration under General Abdussalami Abubakar. It is indeed relevant to note that General Abdussalami was a representation of a political culture institutionalized by the past Nigerian military arrangement under General IBB. That also explains how he was able to find himself in the position, and therefore his political transition program cannot be understood outside this perception. It was with this understanding that conditions were issued out to guide the registration of political parties. The conditions were serious about the integrity of the parties and their outlook, which must not have ethnic or religious connotations or give the impression that the activities of the party are confined to a part or section of Nigeria only. Yet it was the same electoral body that compromised its stand and registered Alliance for Democracy (AD), even though it could not meet the required percentage of the required political constituents. This process was what produced the three political parties that contested for the State and National election which produced the longest republic in Nigerian political history. The injustice that brought AD into the contest forced INEC to register more political parties after the 1999 general election, specifically from 2003, and by 2011 more than thirty political parties contested the election18 The political environment was turned into a business-cum-political environment that INEC had to stop giving out subvention to the registered political parties. Indeed before the 2015 election INEC had to come hard on the parties and in the process deregistered a great number of them for none performance.19
Nigerian Democracy under People’s Democratic Party (PDP) 1998-2015
It was therefore not for nothing that the General Abdussalami Abubakar transition, though within short duration of one year, but successfully delivered Nigeria into its most lasting republic. Three political parties contested the election, with the PDP winning most of the states (24), the ANPP had Seven and the AD had five (5). By implication the PDP controlled the two National Houses of Assembly and indeed the executive arm of the government. The general contest was not without keen competition, but it was calm, essentially because of the unwritten consensus among Nigerians to do away with military regime.20 This was indeed what led to the agreement that endorsed zoning of the presidential seat to a particular region, which the South west was used as a testing ground.21 When looked more critically, one can also see it as one of the strategies by the military to appease the people of the South west, who felt slighted by the annulment of the June 12 mandate. Therefore two candidates emerged from the same religious and ethnic background for the contest of the office of the President, the first time in the history of political transition in Nigeria. Indeed the AD and the ANPP were unofficially coerced into an unholy alliance to meet this political agenda, which produced the candidacy of Chief Olu Falaye and Shinkafi.22 One other interesting development worth given a second look was the emergence of Chief Olusegun Aremo Obasanjo as one of the contestant.23 It is relevant to state here that Chief Obasanjo was jailed by the General Sani Abacha regime on the accusation of planning to over throw him. Chief Obasanjo remained in prison until the death of Genaral Sani Abacha in 1998. He was released together with other political prisoners by the General Abdussalami Abubakar administration that succeeded General Abacha. It is also relevant to note that Chief Obasanjo was at one time the Head of state of Nigeria who handed over power to the second republic politics of 1979. He was therefore never a practicing politician in his life; his miraculous transition to a politician and success without any established independent political structure explains the kind of democracy nursed for the fourth republic, Nigeria. It indeed explains why he had to join PDP, a party described by late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi to have possessed no political bearing beyond the trapping of political party membership that would win election and form government at Federal level.24 It was this ideological emptiness (opening) that gave Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and those that succeeded him, the leverage to work out an independent agenda of their own until 2015 when they lost out.
The first tenure of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo started with much travels abroad, possibly to cultivate support from Western European nations and the United State of America. Britain and the United States, in particular, were glad to have an African ally who was openly critical of abuses committed by African rulers of the likes of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, when many other African nations were not bothered. President Obasanjo also won international praise for Nigeria's role in the crucial regional peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone and Liberia.25 In addition to the forces that brought him to power, the support of the international community further strengthens his conviction as an executive president.26 It was with this political clout that he pursued his style of administration, which got him involved in open disagreements with most of his political colleagues, including his vice (Alhaji Atiku Abubakar). His first and second tenure were therefore wrought in varying controversies so much so that he buried himself in his arrogance of wanting to rule till his last breath.27 It was an agenda he cultivated after he consolidated his hold of the political terrain, which he achieved by manipulating the 2003general election to win states in the South west to PDP. Additional support was also muscled out by dragging governors noted for corruption into his fold or face anticorruption agencies. It was this development that led to the plan to use members of the assembly to modify the Federal constitution to give him additional four-year term as President. According to Senator Ken Nnnamani who served as Senate president during most part of the second tenure:
immediately, I became Senate President, he told me of his intentions and told me how he wanted to achieve it. I initially did not take him seriously until the events began to unfold. He also insinuated that Eight Billion Naira was spent to corrupt legislators to support the agenda.28
The above was corroborated by Femi Gbajamila who gave a figure that totaled to over N 10 billion. Obasanjo was condemned by major political players during the struggle to actualize the Third Term Agenda. This led to a political media uproar in Nigeria and the bill was not ratified by the Lawmakers (National Assembly).29 The relevance of this in the political history of Nigeria is that it unbalanced the PDP political structure and institutionalized corruption in the democratic governance. President Obasanjo became the most powerful figure and indeed a dictator in the party, a development which made him alpha and omega in Nigerian politics.30 The South West (AD, AC) was only able to contest the powers of Obasanjo when they renewed the politics of Yoruba nation through the activities of the Oduwa People Congress, from the Afenefere Youth Movement or Club. This also led to the establishment of similar sectional movements in the North, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the Movement for the Actualization of State of Biafra (MASOB) and the various militants groups of the South-South.
Though president Obasanjo still retain the credit of establishing two important anticorruption bodies (EFCC and ICPC), he indeed cannot exonerate himself from deepening corruption including corrupting the anticorruption bodies he established.31 National resources that were supposed to be used to fund projects found their ways into individual pockets, introducing Nigeria into the politics of dishing out “Ghana must go”. The political calculations had to accept President Obasanjo as a political force; PDP administration at all levels held Nigeria to ransom. All those who disagree with President Obasanjo in PDP were silenced or forced to live the party, a development that led to the registration of additional parties and the emergence of new hands in the opposition parties.32 It was also this political quagmire that created tension and dissention within the party; using his political might President Obasanjo imposed the candidacy of Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’adua to succeed him in 2007. This was not without varying suspicions and critical interpretations. I am of the opinion that it was to further consolidate his (Obasanjo’s) political niche by appeasing the northern Nigerian voters who have been clamouring for a Northern President. On the other hand endorsing someone noted to being medically sick extends Chief Obasanjo’s tenure, since his political relevance will remain even though outside the corridors of political office.33 The strength of these arguments can also be seen from the logic that made him to endorse another politically weaker individual (Goodluck Ebele Jonathan) as the Vice President. Indeed his superimposition of himself as the Chairman board of Trustee of the party (PDP) vindicates the claims of this writer. The above political machinations, maneuverings and scheming created a new set of political cabal in the Nigerian seat of power (ASO Rock) that worked perfectly to the plans of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Same was the experience at State levels; when PDP under the Board of Trustee (BOT) chairmanship of Obasanjo prevailed on the democratic machinery with a view to ensure that it created an all PDP governors in the country. This worked perfectly well in most ANPP states of Northern Nigeria. Governor Ibrahim Saminu Turaki of Jigawa state cross carpeted into PDP and by that set the terrain that produced Alhaji Sule Lamido as the elected governor. Varying tricks moved some more ANPP governors of Bauchi, Zamfara, Kebbi and Sokoto into PDP, creating a near one party state in the Nigerian democratic history. The only surviving ANPP governor in the North East Nigeria, Senator Ali Modu Shariff, had to resort to an alliance with an Islamic militant group to save his seat. What this alliance caused Nigerian people and economy is enough to condemn PDP and its leadership from politics.34
Democratic practice in Nigeria during the 2007-2011 was characterized by the above machinations. Though highly respected politician in the country for his dedication to democratic principles and progressive development, President Umar Musa Yar’adua’s ill health could not allow him perform to expectation.35 His Seven point agenda, that were expected to turn round the economy and society, died with him and most of his periods of absence were used by his political aides to enrich themselves through corrupt practices. The constitution of the land was so ridiculed that the Vice President, though naturally weak, was made an onlooker only saved by politically minded groups and associations from around the country, especially from Southern Nigeria. The political terrain was further tensed by these developments producing a more disappointing dimension to the democratic history. It was at this point that the National Assembly had to support the acting role which Vice president Jonathan headed for some time, before he was confirmed President immediately after the death of President Umar Musa Yar’adua was pronounced.36 The political kingpins that supported his actualization, including from among the militants of the South/South political divide wasted no time in showing their presence around Presidential palace. The democratic tune quickly changed to somehow religio-ethnic and in some other times to ethnic minority politics. The result was a return to the politics of sectionalism, taking Nigerian democratic development back to its First republic era. The crave for Second term in office that dominated the centre stage of the remaining tenure President Goodluck was to complete got PDP more divided at the level of rank and file. So many interest groups were dragged into the scene, including non-political groups as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Since the hidden objective of forming the PDP remain unchanged, the unity of the leadership was sustained, and that was what gave PDP the success it recorded during the 2011 election.37 Nigerian democratic history entered its fourth four year term carrying so much of political debt on its head. The only credit in the democratic journey was the successful transition from civilian to civilian, though at an unquantifiable cost, which took place since 2003.
The tenure of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Vice president Namadi Sambo covered 2011-2015. A new phase of political leadership clearly showed itself defined by utter political incapacity to deliver democratic dividend independently. Varying types of cabals emerged with each promoting one form of agenda or the other, but with none promoting an agenda for development. Democracy suffered its worst beating, when despite the massive earnings from the only revenue commodity (Crude oil), the Minister of Finance and Economic planning declared severally that the country was about to fail in its responsibility to pay its workers monthly salary. There is nothing that failed the administration of President Goodluck as this statement, coming from the then architect of the Nigerian economy. What followed were a number of revelations by experts in the economy, beginning with the former Central Bank governor (Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo) and crowned finally by the then serving Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria of the time (Sanusi Lamido Sanusi). The transformation agenda which was introduced to move Nigeria to a promise land only achieved the alleged status of the ‘largest economy of Africa’. An economic status that failed to justify itself considering the general economic condition and deepening political and religious crisis in the country. An unforgivable legacy of Nigeria’s democratic history under PDP was the emergence and nourishment of religious insurgency. For the first time Nigerian state nearly lost a great part of its territory to an Islamic militant group due to weak political leadership and corrupt administrators. On the other hand another militant tendency was also brewed to support the continuation of PDP type democracy in power for the 2015 election. It was at this point that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo publicly declared the withdrawal of his membership of the party. This development created additional political weight to the opposition parties.
The generally tensed political environment in Nigeria got further worsened after the Arab spring that saw crisis in Libya and the overthrow and massacre of Colonel Mu’amar Gaddafi by combined militant groups. Movement of hard, medium and light weapons found safe heaven in the Nigerian territory very conducive. It was with utmost difficulty that the 2015 election was conducted. It was everywhere internationally predicted that Nigeria will break into pieces, on the basis of religious and ethnic differences. These forces led to a political alliance that brought the opposition party into a united force on the flat form of a new political party the APC. For the first time a grand alliance was put in place between the conservative elements of the North and those of the South West. Under the slogan of Change for better, the PDP dominance in Nigerian Political arena was brought to an end. For the first time in Nigerian history the incumbent, after sixteen years in office lost out an election.
Nigerian democracy is indeed something else, but certainly not Liberal Western democracy, though the claim is about that. What is in place is a sort of connivance or team up by financially buoyant individuals (including the military), whose enormous amount of wealth cannot be justified. Though in theory the process represents following democratic ideals of party politics, election and civil liberty, in practice the opposite prevails. What obtains is certainly not democracy but civilian dictatorship of the military style. If anything, the experience through the sixteen years of the fourth republic only achieved the sustenance of the corrupt political structures. The transition that defeated the PDP in 2015 is the beginning of the process of actualizing democracy in Nigeria, but certainly not the end of it. It is the assumption here that everything being equal, it requires some more similar transformations before the Nigerian workers and peasants will discover themselves and indeed set themselves out of the trap. It is only then that democracy and political parties of clear meaning will come to being. This cannot however be achieved on a platter of gold; the decaying socioeconomic and political condition of the country has done its bit. The challenge is with the politically conscious ones; indeed the future will have no pity on them, those possessing the exceptional privilege to speak the word of truth and justice but remain quite for selfish reasons.
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